Thursday, April 30, 2009

Good Newspaper News



Growing Audience!!!

On a day when the Baltimore Sun reported, “The Baltimore Sun has cut its newsroom staff by nearly a third in a reorganization the company said would help it not just survive but succeed in one of the worst economic downturns in decades”, the Austin American-Statesman has good news for a change.

True, the Statesman has made many staff cuts and buyouts, but the relative health of Austin’s only daily newspaper remains good. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), The Statesman’s overall audience is up 5.97-percent from this time last year. That audience includes subscriptions and online readers.

When compared in 72 U.S. markets with 124 newspapers, the Statesman online is number-one in terms of percentage of local adults reached according to a recent survey, by Scarborough Research and provided by the American-Statesman. The survey results are 12-month averages.

“More than 850,000 will read one of our printed publications or visit one of our web sites in a typical week,” said Harry Davis, vice president for circulation. “That is two out of three local adults and far more than any other local media. We ranked 14th among all [Top 25] newspapers this ABC publishers statement in total readership (print and online).” At the same time, circulation for both the weekday and Sunday editions fell 10.3 percent, according to the Statesman. So, the growth clearly was in the online audience.

“More than 420,000 local adults visit our web sites in a month. In 2008, total page views grew 12% over the previous year. is one of the most-popular local newspaper websites in the U.S., second only to,” Davis said. “The Statesman is the area’s leading source of news, information and advertising, reaching over 400,000 readers each weekday and more than 513,000 readers each Sunday.”

In the same ABC report, other Texas newspapers did not fare so well. The embattled Fort Worth Star-Telegram, now sharing some resources with the Dallas Morning News lost 7.09 percent of its total audience, although it still reaches more than 1.2-million readers. The Houston Chronicle also lost ground, down 6.13 percent, but its total audience is still 2.5-million plus.

There have been whispers that the Fort Worth Star-Telegram may be folded into the Dallas Morning-News. Also, Austinites are aware the Austin American-Statesman’s parent company, Cox Newspapers has been looking for a buyer for the local newspaper for the past several months. Considering the state of the Statesman, it is not going to be a steal.

“The folks at Cox corporate headquarters are determined to keep a tight lid on information about the sale process, and so far they've done a good job. Beyond the fact that the process is continuing, all I know is that Cox has said repeatedly that it will not sell at a fire-sale price,” said Fred Zipp, American-Statesman editor. At last word, negotiations were continuing with several suitors.

These local statistics are a major chord in an overall symphony in a minor key. Newspapers nationwide, like the Baltimore Sun are retooling for a new age of multiplatform journalism. That includes the American-Statesman and probably says something about its relative success. Of the top 25 dailies in the country, only the nation’s number two newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, increased circulation. The growth? Less than one percent. The Wall Street Journal, by the way, is delivered locally by the Austin American-Statesman.

Where is my LP of Bob Dylan’s “The Times, They are A Changing”? I’d best play it while my turntable still works.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Did You Ask for News and Get Promotion?

Be Careful

What You Wish For…

Ah, spring. Political flyers that I do not want are in the mail box and my email inbox. And since it is also TV spring sweeps, some are finding that an Austin TV station is apparently repurposing news and weather alert email lists for promotional messages--You know, the kind that should end up in your Outlook Junk Mail folder. How did viewers get on the email list? Well, they asked to be put on the list, but they are getting more they asked for.

KXAN TV (NBC) in Austin invites viewers to sign up for news and weather email alerts or updates. Most all local media also offer email news and possibly weather alerts. Only KXAN, however, is also using that news and weather alert email list to promote programming. This sweeps period seems to be the first time the station’s promotions department got its hands on the news and weather alert email list.

I don’t subscribe to any broadcast station alerts. A NewsMcNabb reader brought the promotional messages to my attention. The first one arrived on the very first day of sweeps, last Thursday:

From: KXAN News Team [] Sent: Thursday, April 23, 2009 10:11 AMTo: Subject: Programming Announcements

Dear User Name,

Stressed out over the economy? Layoffs, or fear of them, negatively affecting your relationships, your children, your health?

Join us today at noon on and chat live for an hour with Austin life coach Melissa Schenker, Austin Diocese counselor Lupe Garcia and KXAN Austin News anchor Leslie Rhode. Ask them questions, share your stories, get some tips and advice on how to keep your head in these difficult times. They’ll be there for you on our Recession to Recovery page at

Then, watch KXAN Austin News at 10 p.m. for our special report by Leslie Rhode on economic stress and how to cope with it.

Thank you for tuning in and joining us online at!

KXAN903 W. MLK Blvd.Austin,TX 78701

The viewer attempted to get the practice stopped. The alerts were fine, not the spam. Michael Fabac, KXAN news director, forwarded the complaint to his web team:

“Our apologies for the error. I will forward your message … [to] our new media department so you can be unsubscribed from the programming list.

“Thanks for watching!”

Michael Fabac s News Director

But the promos continued.

Today, the station sent out two, both having to do with ongoing coverage of the “Swine” Flu:

“Come to at 2:30 p.m. to watch a live press conference from the Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, where a 22-month-old from Mexico died on Monday.

“Also at 5:30 p.m., join us on for a live chat with local doctors and experts on the swine flu.

“Thank you for watching KXAN Austin News and joining us at while we bring you continuous coverage of this outbreak.

“Stay safe, and be healthy.”

Certainly and quite possibly, this coverage transcends promotion and could be classified as news. Unfortunately, I have not been able to get anyone to make the distinction for me.

Television stations are in hot competition. So, stations might use all media available to promote their products, but as I said earlier, KXAN is the only station using its email list for promotional purposes.

How do I know? I asked them. One station’s new media managing editor said the idea came up once and was quickly shot down, because it might make viewers angry. News 8 News Director Kevin Benz said similarly, “We try to avoid ticking people off.”

KXAN TV has not replied to the NewsMcNabb inquiry.

A bit of irony: Just as I finished the copyright note below, my cell phone provider sent me a text message, encouraging me to send pictures with Mother’s Day texts. Geez.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Friday, April 24, 2009

Change Happens




It was another occasion for celebration. Popular former KVUE TV (ABC) anchor Margie Reedy was in Austin with her daughter checking out The University of Texas for graduate school. At the same time, other former KVUE news staffers were in from out of town just for fun. It turned into another reunion of sorts, a celebration of the award-winning, ratings-reigning era running from roughly the early 1980s to the early 1990s.

It was before the surge of the Internet. Further, cable and satellite alternatives weren’t very attractive. So, about one-third of Austin area viewers made an appointment with KVUE 24 Action News at 6 p.m. During that decade, KVUE created Austin’s first 5 p.m. newscast. It was an innovative, heady, and fun time to be in TV news.

Seldom am I seen at parties, but I dragged myself out of Southwest Austin to the downtown hotel to share in the moments and stories from some 25 years ago. As I am wont to do, I found myself stepping back and looking at all of the smiling faces. It came to me that only a few of us are still in “the business”. Margie moved on from Austin before ending up anchoring in Boston, MA. She left TV a few years ago. She said, it was time.

It is a common story nowadays. Baby boomers are being bought out. Others’ contracts are not renewed. Some are able to leave on their own terms like Rebecca Rodriguez who last reported in Dallas, although her husband is still in broadcast journalism. More and more, however, the middle-aged (for lack of a better term) journalists are leaving the room. Just take a look at the headlines in TV Spy almost daily. And, with these seasoned pros, decades of experience, history, contacts, and goodwill leave the room with them.

More and more, newsrooms are filled with bright young faces. To be sure, they are talented and educated. But they cannot immediately replace what is being lost.
A friend and former Austin reporter, now in business for herself in Houston, had an interesting take on TV News recently. “My biggest regret about leaving TV is that I never had the chance to report as a mom,” She says. “I think it is rather ironic actually that most of today's journalists have never been parents or … seen the world when they peak, and then when that life experience hits, they're off the air! Kind of strange and sad,” She said that she seldom watches TV news now—it frustrates her.

It is said that TV mirrors society. If that is so, society must be getting a lot younger. Only in Austin, Texas do most of the anchors seem to stick around. And some, like Leslie Rhode on KXAN TV (NBC), leave and come back. They are, however, often surrounded by a different generation.

My eyes turned back to the gathering at the hotel. It was great seeing them all again. My biggest surprise of the evening was when Rebecca Rodriguez told me that she was one of my students at Southwest Texas State University (Now Texas State University) in the early 1980s. My biggest laugh of the night was when Carolyn Mungo, now in news management in Houston, declared, “We never worked together, but I feel like I know you. I’ve heard all the stories!” Sure enough, she and Wendy Erickson, with whom I never worked either, recited some. My biggest surprise of the night was the appearance of former KVUE news director Bob Buckalew, now owner of Buckalew Media. He shows up at fewer parties than I do.

It was a fun evening, worthy of reflection.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

March Madness Revisited

The Winter Sweeps Winners

With all of March madness, SXSW, the rodeo, and Texas relays, somehow this rather useless, but necessary Nielsen rating period, the sweep month, got swept aside in Austin, the nation’s 49th market. A little background: The winter sweeps are supposed to be in February, but the ratings were pushed to March because of the planned switch from analogue TV to digital TV, which didn’t happen for the most part in Austin.

Only KEYE TV (CBS) turned off their analogue transmitter, a fact the station is promoting—First in Austin to transmit in only DTV. The NCAA basketball tournament also often eliminated or pushed several newscasts on KEYE TV. That alone will skew the Neilsen numbers. The winter sweeps were also the first sweeps with all of the stations’ anchor teams in place in several months. Toss in Daylight Saving Time (DST) starting the second Sunday in March, and it makes for a potentially whacky book.

It finally dawned on me last week that I had not reported the results of the winter book, and it is almost time for the usually important May book. May sweeps start tomorrow (April 23)! I say that the May sweeps are usually important. The caveat this year is that the DTV conversion when the rest of Austin’s stations will turn off their analogue transmitters is now June 12, 2009. So, we will have another sweeps month with only KEYE TV in only DTV.

So, what did the March, 2009 sweeps tell us? March didn’t show a great deal of change. The Austin market remains highly competitive.

In the mornings, KTBC (Fox) won the 5 a.m. hour followed by KXAN (NBC), and KVUE (ABC). KXAN won the 6 a.m. hour, KVUE and KTBC were in a virtual tie for second, just a couple of points behind.

At 5 p.m. KVUE was the clear winner, followed by KXAN and KTBC. KEYE was a distant fourth place.

The 6 p.m. gets muddy because of the NCAA Basketball March Madness. Lots of people were watching basketball, not news. KVUE news was the clear #1, followed by KXAN, “TMZ” on KTBC, and KEYE, when they had a 6 p.m. newscast.

By 10 p.m. things settled down some, and the numbers are similar to the November sweeps. KVUE was #1. KEYE edged out KXAN for #2 by just a hair. “The Simpsons” on KTBC wasn’t far behind.

Saturdays, 6 p.m. news was muddled by March Madness again. The most people were watching basketball on KEYE. Otherwise, KXAN had the #1 newscast, followed by KEYE when they had a newscast, or KVUE and KTBC.

Saturdays at 10 p.m. found KEYE at #1, KVUE was #2 just a couple of points ahead of KXAN. “Mad TV” on KTBC was #4.

I am not going to rank the Sunday early news because the newscasts air at different times against network or other competition. For the Sunday 10 p.m. newscasts KVUE is #1, followed by a virtual three-way tie between KXAN, KEYE, and “The Simpsons” on KTBC.

One observation: KEYE pulled the plug on its analogue transmitter in the middle of the month, yet it seemed to make little difference. The CBS affiliate may have benefitted from basketball bringing in a strong lead-in audience for its 10 p.m. broadcasts on some nights. Further CBS continues to deliver the most-watched programming. KEYE appears to have been crushed without a compelling lead-in. The station’s moderate success also is possibly attributable to the fact that Austin is one of the most heavily cabled markets in the country, not to mention satellite penetration. Now, will it hold up during the next sweeps?

Now, as KXAN TV’s News Director Michael Fabac says, “It’s on to May.”

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

KEYE to the Rescue

Texas Rangers



This morning I was getting over my Time Warner programming sports explosion when friend, fellow baseball fan, former mainstream journalist Larry BeSaw informed me that KEYE TV .2 is broadcasting some of the Texas Ranger games on KEYE TV .2—RTN TV, the station’s second, digital only channel.

KEYE TV .2 Normally airs programming from RTN, cool old shows like “Alfred Hitchcock”, “Airwolf”, “Dragnet”, “Ironside”, “Magnum P.I. and many more. You can find the program schedule on their web site,

Now, it is true: The station is adding live sports to the mix.

“FSN (Fox Sports Network) has the rights to the Rangers baseball games, and we thought the Rangers would have some local interest. So, we acquired all the games that did not have airing rights on other channels,” says Amy Villarreal, KEYE TV president and general manager and avid baseball fan.

So, here is the good news: You don’t need no stinkin’ digital cable box. If you have HDTV or a DTV hook-up, you are literally home free. You ask, how does one know when games are on the air. Good question. It is kind of a secret. The Austin American-Statesman sports page lists that the Rangers are playing, but the newspaper does not say the game is being broadcast. Check out today’s (Tuesday) listing. It says the Texas Rangers are playing at Toronto at 6 p.m., and it lists a radio station where you can hear play-by-play. Of course, the newspaper also said last night’s Astro’s game was on Fox SW, but I digress. The newspaper should be saying KEYE TV .2 or something. If you do have digital cable, by the way, you’ll find the game on Time Warner digital channel 1532.

The current season is listed on the KEYE TV .2 RTN web site shown above.

Will there be more sports on KEYE .2? Maybe. “At this time we have all the games that are available and are looking at other opportunities,” Villarreal says.

And you say there is never any good news. This is a breath of fresh air after yesterday. This is good news. Now, you say, Jim, you take this baseball thing too seriously. One more point of explanation about yesterday’s screed: I wrote after my TV, Internet, and phones (Yes, we bought the “bundle”) had been off for some four hours. I was already primed.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Monday, April 20, 2009

What Is Time Warner Thinking?

They Are Not …

Below you’ll see the transcript of a “live chat” I had with a Time Warner Cable representative tonight. I have deleted the name of the representative. He was doing what he was hired to do.

Time Warner may wonder why some many people dislike them. They may not care. Their programming tonight (Monday) was just dumb.
user Jim has entered room.

analyst (TW representative) has entered room
TW(Mon Apr 20 22:21:44 CDT 2009)>

Thank you for choosing Time Warner Cable Online Chat Support. My name is xxxx. Please give me a moment, while I access your account information.

TW(Mon Apr 20 22:22:10 CDT 2009)>
Thank you for waiting.

TW(Mon Apr 20 22:22:55 CDT 2009)>
I understand that you are upset about the airing of the Spurs game twice, instead of showing the Astro's on channel 54. Is this correct?

Jim(Mon Apr 20 21:23:03 CDT 2009)>
I have a comment only. I know that there is nothing you can do about it. The Spurs NBA game is on TNT. The Astros are supposed to be on 54. No. It's also the Spurs game. Some in the audience would rather see the Astros or both. But, only the Spurs are available. Bad choice.

TW(Mon Apr 20 22:24:08 CDT 2009)>
I apologize for the inconvenience, and will be happy to assist you with this.

Jim(Mon Apr 20 21:25:00 CDT 2009)>
Further, in previous years (not tonight) when both the Rangers and the Astros were playing, TW would put one of the games on channel 77. Not this year so far. There are blank channels up and down the spectrum not being used, because TW has bumped stuff to the digital tier. It's not right.

Jim(Mon Apr 20 21:25:34 CDT 2009)>
You can't do anything about this, correct?

TW(Mon Apr 20 22:26:16 CDT 2009)>
I do understand your concern about this.

TW(Mon Apr 20 22:27:00 CDT 2009)>
Even I would have felt the same way.

Jim(Mon Apr 20 21:26:58 CDT 2009)>
You do see my logic regarding the Spurs being on two channels, don't you?

TW(Mon Apr 20 22:27:20 CDT 2009)>
Yes, I certainly do.

TW(Mon Apr 20 22:27:37 CDT 2009)>
Let me check for any updates.

TW(Mon Apr 20 22:27:38 CDT 2009)>
One moment please.

TW(Mon Apr 20 22:30:18 CDT 2009)>
Thank you for your patience.

TW(Mon Apr 20 22:30:34 CDT 2009)>
I apologize for the delay; however, there is no update available at this time.

TW(Mon Apr 20 22:31:16 CDT 2009)>
Contractual agreements for carriage or removal of specific programs are negotiated at the corporate level and information about this is available withe the local office.

Jim(Mon Apr 20 21:31:53 CDT 2009)>
Please pass along my feedback on this programming. Even if it contractual, TW should run a crawl. Meantime the front office needs to take another look at their schedule. Please pass this along. Good night.

Here is the message: Don’t just accept what Time Warner Cable allows. Central Texans pay hard-earned cash for their “service”. I don’t want to hear about contractual issues. I want choice.

I haven’t written a screed in a while.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

He's Back

Jason Hill Back on TV in Austin

Jason Hill, former morning anchor on KVUE TV (ABC), is landing on his feet, at least for the moment, at KXAN TV (NBC). According to Eric Lassberg, KXAN’s president and general manager, the job is, “Short term, sporadic, freelance only.” It is not a permanent hire at this time.

First word of the Hill’s return came from anchor Robert Hadlock on Facebook, “KXAN welcomes Jason Hill. Watch him Tuesday on Austin News Today beginning at 5AM.” Hill will be appearing as a reporter, not as an anchor. He was working on a story for air tomorrow (Tuesday) morning, during the day, according to sources.

Hill and Michael Fabac were friends when both were in Detroit. Hill apparently is not replacing any current KXAN TV staff member.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Friday, April 10, 2009

Murrow Awards


KUT-FM, (NPR) the public radio station operated at The University of Texas is the only Austin station, radio or television to be honored with Regional Edward R. Murrow awards in 2009. If you regularly punch up 90.5 on the dial, you are not surprised. If you are not a regular listener, you may want to include them among your presets.

Radio news virtually disappeared in the mid-1980s when radio and television was deregulated during the Ronald Reagan administration. Nowadays, only KUT-FM and KLBJ-AM make serious attempts to cover local stories. The KLBJ-AM news department supplies news to other Emmis radio stations at what one former DJ called the “Radio Mall” on North I-35. Other stations have may have news readers, but little beat and remote reporting is going on.

So, it is worthy of praise and notice when local radio wins news awards. Further, these aren’t run-of-the-mill recognitions:

KUT-FM Overall Excellence
Continuing Coverage for the “West Texas Compound Raid and Aftermath”
News Documentary for “Amazing Grace: The Story of Willie Nelson”
Sports Reporting for “Austin Baseball Anniversary”

These regional winners will are now eligible for national awards.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Making Deals with the Devil

It’s the Devil You Know

Quietly local television stations KTBC (Fox), KXAN (NBC), KEYE (CBS), and KVUE (ABC) have been sharing news video of what are considered routine events for around a month now. News managers have a quick five-minute conference call in the mornings to decide which news conferences or events could merit coverage with one camera.

I noticed one obvious instance of shared video a week or so ago. It was a news conference at the Austin Police Department. More than one station used the same sound bite, probably because it was the most interesting thing said. The camera angle for the shot was the same. It was shared. Of course, news conferences and events are edited at each of the station, so no two stories should look exactly the same.

Interestingly, only one news director will talk about it. More than one person told me that news managers were cautioned or told not to talk about their arrangement with “News McNabb” or, presumably, any other reporters. “Given the proprietary nature of your question, I will respectfully decline making a comment,” said Michael Fabac, KXAN News director. Earlier confirmation of their participation in the video sharing arrangement did come from Eric Lassberg, station president and general manager.

I find it interesting, even amusing that people who are so used to asking questions and expecting answers are now on the other end of the questions, and the managers who would be outraged by a “no comment” will not talk. Please know that I am not calling out Michael Fabac; he did answer my email. Further, Fabac is a good guy. This video sharing arrangement, I think, so runs against the grain, there is no happy answer. No news manager who was an idealistic journalism student “back in the day” would have ever dreamed that video sharing with competitors would be part of the daily routine. To be fair, there is precedence. Pool coverage of major events is normal. On those occasions all of the stations work together to make it happen for the benefit of their viewers. No one, however, would have thought that this would the daily norm, however.

Frank Volpicella, KVUE TV news director, is willing to talk about the arrangement. “It seems to be working very well. Really, no complaints,” Volpicella says. “We’re getting video that we wouldn’t have been able to shoot before. Too many news conferences are held at the same time of day. No station could possibly shoot them all.”

“The pool evolved from one station being pool for the day, to every station shooting one or two stories a day. That seems to work well. It doesn’t burden one station with the daily pool, and it allows us to share more video.” Volpicella says.

One could make the argument that the video sharing could lead to shallow coverage. Certainly, if a station relies on the pool to fill the news hole, the stories will be wallpaper—ugly wallpaper at that. It is also true that participation in the pool can also allow stations to better use their limited resources, resulting in stronger stories for the audience. That may have been the case when KXAN chose to send its satellite truck and reporter Shannon Wolfson to Laredo to cover the murder of an Austin priest. KXAN owned the story. Other stations relied on telephone reports and affiliate video.

Is this collaboration only the beginning? No. I don’t think so. In other markets, TV stations are teaming up with local newspapers, even to the point of combining newsrooms. “I’m sure this consolidation will continue industry wide. Stations are sharing helicopters and other resources, so it will evolve as well,” Volpicella says. For years, the KVUE weather staff has presented the weather forecast in the Austin American-Statesman.” It is part promotion and part shared content.

It should be noted that Univision and News 8 are not participating in the pool. News 8 News Director Kevin Benz is not sold on the concept. “I’m not sure that there is a benefit to us,” Benz said. News 8 has more cameras on the street than any other newsroom in town, Benz says. Never say never, however. “I’m leaving the door open,” he said.

As households using television (HUTs) go down and profit margins narrow, media, broadcast and print, will continue making deals. When the audience does begin to sense shallowness in the stories, the audience will render its decision in the ratings or in circulation.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Friday, April 3, 2009

Change at KEYE TV

Anna Lisa Leaves

Staff stability is always key to a climb to the top of the TV ratings. Staff stability is problematic throughout the broadcast news industry nowadays. KEYE TV (CBS), fighting against the economic odds, is losing another talented reporter. Annalisa Petralia is leaving for all the right reasons, however. She is going home. Today (Friday, April 3rd) is her last day.

She was born and raised in Garden City, New York. She continues to have strong family ties there. So, Annalisa Petralia is going home. She hopes remain in broadcast news. Chances are good that she will. She holds a degree from Hofstra University’s School of Communication in New York.

Her news career began at a radio station near New York City. She was a radio news reporter and a disc jockey for almost four years.After spending some time at WABC-TV in New York City, she went on to work at News 12 Long Island. She was a reporter in Brooklyn for New York City Transit’s news magazine show on WNYE-TV. She won numerous awards over the years.

Petralia came to Austin from Tyler, Texas about a year ago. There, she rose through to the ranks at the start-up CBS affiliate beginning as their first morning anchor and leaving as their 5 p.m. anchor. According to the KEYE TV web site, reporting is her first love. From day one at KEYE, Annalisa came to the morning editorial meeting with a list of possible story ideas. People on the desk love that!

“Annalisa has been an eager, enthusiastic member of our newsroom,” said Suzanne Black, news director. “She is a real contributor, in terms of story ideas. We are all sad to see her go.”

“I thoroughly enjoyed working with Annalisa,” said John Salazar, KEYE director of photography. “She has a great attitude, volumes of talent, and volumes of potential.”

Earlier this year, KEYE learned that Julie Simon, one of the station’s strongest and most experienced reporters would not be coming back from maternity leave. Julie and her husband welcomed their first child late last year.

Also earlier this year, Investigative Reporter Nanci Wilson accepted an offer from competitor KXAN TV (NBC). She is waiting for her non compete clause to expire before she can appear on the air.

Meantime, Ryan Loyd joined the KEYE staff last November. He seems to have quickly grasped what Austin is about. Loyd is a Texan. He’s at home. Perhaps he’ll stay a while.

© Jim McNabb, 2009